Yellow watery diarrhea: causes, treatment and complications

Yellow watery diarrhea in adults
Medically reviewed by Dr. Mandy Liedeman

Key Takeaways

  1. From anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome to liver diseases and medication side effects, various factors can contribute to yellow watery stools, requiring proper diagnosis and treatment.
  2. If yellow watery diarrhea persists for more than two days and is accompanied by fever, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, or signs of dehydration, immediate medical consultation is crucial to prevent complications and ensure appropriate management.
  3. Addressing the root causes, such as stress, irritable bowel syndrome, or dietary triggers, involves adopting healthy coping mechanisms, dietary modifications, and seeking professional guidance for effective long-term management.

Overview

Suffering from yellow watery diarrhea and don’t know the cause? From diseases to diet, yellow diarrhea in adults can indicate various underlying issues such as excess stress, intestinal infection, gallbladder problems, or pancreatic issues. This condition occurs when stool passes rapidly through the intestinal tract, preventing proper fat absorption and resulting in a distinctive yellow appearance. Typically, it lasts for a day or two. However, persistent occurrences need immediate medical attention. Adequate water intake prevents dehydration, and lighter meals are recommended for a smoother recovery. Normal stool is tawny, reflecting a blend of yellow-brown and orange-brown hues derived from bile and bilirubin. Any deviation in poop color and consistency signals an underlying medical condition. Keep reading to explore the possible causes and treatment for yellow watery diarrhea.

What causes yellow watery diarrhea?

Diarrhea often presents with a more fluid consistency. Here are the main factors contributing to loose yellow stool and the recommended treatment approaches for each. Common triggers for yellow diarrhea include:

1. Anxiety or stress

Anxiety or stress stands as the predominant catalyst for diarrhea, causing frequent bowel movements that impede the absorption of nutrients and water in the intestines, resulting in yellow liquid diarrhea. Concurrently, anxiety attacks can disrupt blood flow, diverting it from the intestinal tract and complicating digestion, leading to an increased fat content in stools, manifesting as a yellow hue. While yellow watery stool is a common manifestation of anxiety or stress, it typically resolves within one to two days.

Recommendations

Identifying the root cause of stress or anxiety is crucial for preventing future occurrences. Adopting healthy coping mechanisms, such as regular exercise, reading, or meditation, can be beneficial. Exploring herbal remedies for anxiety, especially those used to create soothing, sedative teas, may also provide relief. Additionally, persistent or chronic stress can not only induce diarrhea but also contribute to various long-term health issues. In chronic stress, prolonged activation of stress-induced chemicals can adversely affect the digestive tract, heart, skin, and other bodily functions.

2. Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) frequently contributes to the onset of diarrhea, and while the diarrhea may not consistently exhibit a yellow coloration, irritated bowels can disrupt fat absorption in the intestine, resulting in the production of frequent yellow watery stools. Symptoms associated with IBS encompass abdominal pain, excessive gas, and alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea.

Recommendations

To alleviate intestinal symptoms and address yellow diarrhea linked to IBS, it is essential to identify triggering foods for intestinal flare-ups. Generally, avoiding items like dark leafy greens, alcohol, and coffee is advised. A low FODMAP diet is often recommended for individuals experiencing chronic intestinal symptoms which helps to reduce the intake of difficult-to-digest carbohydrates. Sometimes, healthcare professionals, including doctors or gastroenterologists, may prescribe medications to help manage and treat these symptoms.

Suffering from yellow watery diarrhea? See a doctor for IBS treatment at Your Doctors Online.

3. Gilbert Syndrome and Reduced Bile Levels

Gilbert’s syndrome, a genetic liver disorder affecting 3% to 7% of Americans, leads to intermittent increases in bilirubin levels, resulting in a mild yellowish tinge to the skin and bright yellow diarrhea. This condition, typically diagnosed in the teen years, occurs when bilirubin is not consistently broken down and expelled. Reduced bile levels, crucial for fat metabolism and absorption in the intestines, can lead to yellow bile diarrhea. Associated symptoms include dark urine, fatigue, weight loss, and a low-grade fever

Recommendations

Consult a doctor or gastroenterologist for assessment and testing to determine the underlying cause of low bile levels. Treatment options will be indicated based on the diagnosis.

 4. Pancreatic problems

Chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, pancreatic duct blockages, or cystic fibrosis can contribute to the development of yellow stool. These conditions may induce steatorrhea, indicating insufficient pancreatic enzymes for fat digestion, resulting in a yellow, greasy appearance, often causing the stool to float or appear frothy.

Pancreatitis can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Chronic alcohol consumption is a common cause. If untreated or if aggravating factors persist, pancreatitis can progress to chronic pancreatitis, causing permanent damage and hindering enzyme production. In such cases, the body struggles to break down fats and nutrients adequately, leading to yellow diarrhea. 

Recommendations

Immediate hospital assessment is crucial if pancreatic abnormalities are suspected. Treatment may involve prescribed medications such as analgesics or anti-inflammatories (naproxen, ibuprofen, acetaminophen), along with pancreatic enzyme supplements. Dietary adjustments may also be necessary. In instances of cancer-related pancreatic issues, surgery following chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be recommended.

5. Intestinal infections

Intestinal infections, such as giardiasis and Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection, can result in yellow colored diarrhea. Giardiasis, caused by the microscopic parasite giardia, is contracted through ingestion of giardia cysts found in contaminated food or water. Symptoms include foul-smelling yellow watery poop, stomach cramps, nausea, headache, low-grade fever, and weight loss. The infection can be chronic but is typically treated with antibiotics. 

C. diff infection, linked to antibiotic use, manifests as yellow liquid stool, stomach cramping, yellowish pus or blood in stool, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and weight loss. Intestinal infections, often arising from contaminated food or water, induce inflammation in the intestinal lining, disrupting the absorption of water, fat, and nutrients, leading to yellow diarrhea. Additional symptoms may include vomiting, headache, loss of appetite, and fever.

Recommendations

Rest and proper hydration are crucial during an intestinal infection. Adopting a light and easily digestible diet can expedite recovery. Home remedies may also be considered to manage mild symptoms.

Experiencing yellow watery diarrhea with blood and fever? Get diagnosis and treatment for intestinal infection within minutes.

6. Liver disease

Liver diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can diminish bile salts crucial for food digestion and nutrient absorption. Gallstones or gallbladder sludge can further limit bile reaching the intestines, causing both pain and yellow stool.

Liver and gallbladder functions are integral for bile production and storage. If issues arise, such as hepatitis from alcohol, viruses, or infection, biliary cirrhosis, cysts in the bile duct, gallstones, or tumors in the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas, the stool may adopt a pale or yellowish color, occasionally accompanied by diarrhea.

Conditions like cirrhosis, hepatitis, or liver cancer interfere with bile production, leading to reduced fat absorption, lighter and more liquid stools, and yellow diarrhea. Additional symptoms may include malaise, abdominal pain, bloating, yellow skin, red rashes, vomiting, and weight loss.

Recommendations

Consult a family doctor or liver specialist for a comprehensive assessment. Confirmatory testing may be ordered, and treatment, varying based on the specific illness, could involve medications, dietary changes, rest, surgery, or even a liver transplant.

7. Orlistat Side effect

The use of orlistat, also known as Xenical, a medication designed to inhibit fat absorption in the intestines, can result in yellow liquid stools. This effect is accompanied by fecal urgency, excess gas, and an increase in the total number of bowel movements per day. Orlistat is prescribed for purposes such as weight loss, cholesterol management, and diabetes control.

Recommendations

It is crucial to strictly adhere to the prescribed usage guidelines provided by your doctor when using Orlistat. This medication significantly reduces the absorption of fat and liposoluble vitamins in the gut. Taking orlistat alongside a low-fat diet can help minimize the likelihood of experiencing soft yellow stool.

8. Effect of Diet

Certain dietary choices can contribute to or exacerbate diarrhea, especially foods high in carbohydrates, dairy, and high fructose. These items stimulate increased intestinal contractions and may be challenging to digest, leading to diarrhea. Additionally, fatty meats, processed foods, and spicy dishes can worsen diarrhea, resulting in watery stools. Several food intolerances can manifest as yellow diarrhea, including:

  • Lactose
  • Soy
  • Cereal grains
  • Eggs
  • Seafood

Recommendations

To address or prevent yellow diarrhea, it is advisable to avoid or significantly reduce the consumption of high-fat foods (such as milk, cheese, and creams), legumes (like beans and chickpeas), and tough or leafy greens (such as broccoli, spinach, and radish). Refer to a comprehensive list of foods to avoid with diarrhea for a faster recovery from your family doctor.

9. Celiac disease

Celiac disease, a chronic digestive condition triggered by gluten consumption, necessitates the avoidance of gluten-containing foods to prevent inflammation in the intestines. Individuals with celiac disease may lack the enzyme responsible for breaking down gluten or produce it insufficiently, leading to undigested gluten along the digestive tract. This stimulates the immune system, causing lesions in the intestines, difficulty absorbing fat, and the presence of fat in stools. 

Due to increased fat content and heightened intestinal activity, patients may experience yellow diarrhea (which may also appear pale), constipation, loss of appetite, nausea, bloating, fatigue, headache, skin rash, and loss of bone density. Celiac disease, characterized by the immune system attacking and damaging the small intestine tissues in response to gluten, often runs in families.

Recommendations

To manage symptoms, individuals with celiac disease must avoid gluten-containing foods such as bread, pasta, and alcoholic drinks. Consulting a registered dietitian for a personalized diet plan that prevents nutritional deficiencies is advisable. While there is no cure, effective treatment involves eliminating gluten from the diet and management in coordination with your healthcare professional.

Yellow watery diarrhea in adults

Normal stool is characterized by its smooth and brown appearance. People generally experience regular bowel movements, ranging from three times a week to three times a day. When there is a sudden change in stool consistency or color, it’s essential to consider recent dietary changes, new medications, or supplements as potential causes. While diarrhea typically resolves within about four days, persistent yellow diarrhea may indicate an underlying health condition, especially in older adults. If you’re experiencing yellow watery diarrhea, several health conditions could contribute to this change, including:

  • Diarrhea: Persistent diarrhea beyond the usual duration.
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease): A digestive disorder causing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.
  • Cholestasis: Impaired bile flow, affecting the digestion and absorption of fats.
  • Pancreatic, Liver, or Gallbladder Disease: Disorders affecting these organs may lead to changes in stool color.
  • Abdominal Tumor: Presence of a tumor in the abdominal region.

Recommendations

If you’re an older adult experiencing yellow stool, it is crucial to seek medical attention for a thorough evaluation. Persistent symptoms could be indicative of an underlying health condition that requires proper diagnosis and management. Consulting a healthcare professional will help identify the specific cause and guide appropriate treatment measures.

Yellow watery diarrhea in toddler

The presence of yellow stool in toddlers can signify a shorter transit time of food through the intestinal tract. While various colors are common and can indicate changes in transit time, it’s crucial to pay attention to specific signs, such as blood or persistent diarrhea, which may signal a potential health concern requiring prompt medical attention.

Normal Stool Patterns in Infants

Soft and even liquid stools are normal in babies, particularly during the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Breast milk, rich in water content, contributes to softer stools. However, consistent leakage from diapers may indicate diarrhea and should be evaluated by a pediatrician. The quicker functioning of a baby’s intestines, especially in breastfed infants, can make fat absorption more challenging, resulting in yellow stools.

Concerning Stool Characteristics

Stools in infants are typically not a cause for concern unless they are excessively frequent or exhibit colors such as pink, red, white, or black. Soft, frequent, and yellowish stools are considered normal in breastfed babies. However, changes in stool frequency or consistency, such as increased watery stools, may suggest the presence of diarrhea. Several reasons could contribute to diarrhea in toddlers, including:

  • Change in the toddler’s diet or, if breastfeeding, a change in the mother’s diet.
  • Antibiotic use by the mother (if breastfeeding) or the toddler.
  • Bacterial or parasitic infections, which may require medical attention, testing, and appropriate medication.
  • Dehydration, particularly in children under three years of age.

Warning Signs

Parents should promptly notify their child’s medical provider if:

  • The baby is three months old or younger and experiencing diarrhea.
  • There’s a sudden change to pale or white stool, which could indicate cystic fibrosis.

Recommendations

If parents observe concerning changes in their toddler’s stool patterns or color, especially signs of diarrhea, it is essential to consult with the child’s primary medical provider immediately. Detailed information about the toddler’s diet, antibiotic use, and any additional symptoms will aid the healthcare professional in diagnosing and addressing the underlying cause of the diarrhea.

Worried about your child’s yellow watery diarrhea? Get the treatment and diagnosis 24/7 with an online doctor.

Is yellow liquid diarrhea serious?

Untreated yellow liquid diarrhea can lead to various complications, underscoring the importance of timely medical attention. The repercussions of persistent yellow stool may extend beyond the gastrointestinal realm and impact overall health. Recognizing warning signs and symptoms indicative of a digestive tract problem is crucial for early intervention. Complications of untreated yellow stool are as follows:

  • Low Red Blood Counts: Prolonged yellow stool can contribute to low red blood cell counts, potentially leading to anemia.
  • Dehydration: Persistent diarrhea may result in dehydration, a condition requiring prompt rehydration to prevent further health issues.
  • Poor Nutrition: Inadequate absorption of nutrients due to ongoing digestive issues can result in poor nutrition.
  • Growth Trouble in Children: Children may experience growth-related challenges if yellow stool remains untreated.
  • Potential to Spread Cancers or Infections: Untreated underlying causes of yellow stool, such as infections or cancers, may progress and pose additional health risks.

Warning Signs of Digestive Tract Problems

Several symptoms serve as warning signs of potential digestive tract problems accompanying yellow stool, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Indigestion and gas
  • Severely bad-smelling stool
  • Swelling and bloating in the abdomen
  • Cramping in the abdomen

Additional complications associated with yellow stool are following:

  • Jaundice: Yellowing of the skin and eyes due to liver-related issues.
  • Fever and Fatigue: Persistent yellow stool may be accompanied by systemic symptoms such as fever and fatigue.
  • Skin Itching: Itching of the skin may result from liver dysfunction.
  • Bone or Joint Pain: Complications involving bones or joints may arise from untreated underlying conditions.

Recommendations

Immediate medical attention is crucial when individuals experience persistent yellow liquid diarrhea, as it can help prevent or address complications. Recognizing warning signs and seeking timely intervention can aid in the diagnosis and management of underlying digestive tract issues, improving overall health outcomes.

When should I go to the doctor for yellow watery diarrhea?

While yellow watery diarrhea can often be attributed to dietary changes, persistent symptoms or accompanying signs may require immediate medical attention. Knowing when to consult a doctor is essential for timely diagnosis and appropriate management. Seek medical attention right away if you experience any of the following:

  • Diarrhea for More Than Two Days: Prolonged diarrhea may indicate an underlying issue that requires investigation.
  • Fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or Higher: Elevated body temperature may suggest an infection or other health concern.
  • Vomiting: Persistent vomiting can contribute to dehydration and requires medical evaluation.
  • More Than Six Loose Stools in 24 Hours: Increased frequency of loose stools may indicate a digestive issue that needs attention.
  • Severe Abdominal or Rectal Pain: Intense pain in the abdomen or rectum requires immediate assessment.
  • Black Tarry Stools or Pus: Unusual stool color or the presence of pus may indicate a more serious condition.

Additionally, if your yellow stool persists for several days or is accompanied by the following symptoms, it is advisable to contact your doctor:

  • Passing out
  • Lack of awareness
  • Confusion or mental changes
  • Additional fever
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pus-filled stool
  • Lack of urine

If you experience prolonged or concerning symptoms of yellow watery diarrhea, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional without delay. Providing detailed information about your symptoms will aid in accurate diagnosis and appropriate management, ensuring your overall well-being.

FAQs about yellow watery diarrhea

How long does it take for yellow diarrhea to go away?

Diarrhea is when you have loose, watery, or more frequent bowel movements than usual. It happens to most people occasionally and is typically not a cause for concern. While it can be distressing, it usually goes away within a few days to a week if the cause is not serious. However, if the cause is a serious medical condition, medical treatment is required.

What should I eat if I have yellow watery diarrhea?

If you have yellow watery diarrhea, you can stick to drinking liquids for a short period. When you have watery diarrhea, it’s advised to have boiled starches and cereals like potatoes, noodles, rice, wheat, and oats with a bit of salt. You can also consider eating crackers, bananas, soup, and boiled vegetables.

Why do I have diarrhea but not sick?

Diarrhea can occur as the only symptom sometimes, while at other times, it may be accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or weight loss. The severity of your diarrhea depends upon the underlying cause. Causes of diarrhea unrelated to acute illness can include factors like consuming certain foods, food allergies or intolerances, certain medications, caffeine consumption, use of laxatives, alcohol consumption, and various digestive problems or diseases (such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome [IBS], Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or small intestinal issues).

What virus causes yellow watery diarrhea?

Bright yellow liquid stool may indicate giardiasis, an infection caused by an intestinal parasite that can be contracted from consuming contaminated water. Viral gastroenteritis, on the other hand, is an infection affecting the intestines, usually resulting in watery diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramping, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever.

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